Note: This article originally appeared in Jewish Journal.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m flooded with memories of those gone by. Some are happy, some are sad, but each one is a part of me, of the person I am now.
Mothers come in all sizes, colors, and with different capabilities. They can be business executives, professors, teachers, dentists, doctors, and nurses, whatever they choose. But despite it all, once they take on the role of “mother,” hopefully that’s the most important job they can have.
The mantle of motherhood
Mother … what a special word. How many songs, poems, and stories have been written about mothers? Some women are mothers by birth and some by adoption. Some are grandmothers, some are aunts; it doesn’t matter. What matters is those who take on the mantle of motherhood provide the wisdom, the warmth, and the love that help nurture a child and lead him or her to maturity. It’s a powerful responsibility.
I think back to the birth of my son, Brian, who gave me the right to be called mother. I can recall holding him in my arms for the very first time. It hit me like a bolt of lightning: This was my child, the baby I brought into this world, who I vowed to protect forever. I often repeated that vow, especially after Brian was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Brian, my son, my baby, was the reason I could now be part of the Mother’s Day celebration.
I remember how excited I was as a child wanting my mother to know how much I loved her. Mom didn’t care about presents, unless it was a box of chocolates.
I recall when I was older but still too young to babysit, I didn’t have money for a Mother’s Day gift. My brother, almost 5 years older, had earned his money helping a family friend schlep merchandise. Flush with his funds, he went to the local drugstore and bought a gift set of Evening in Paris perfume and toiletries in their famous blue containers.
I know my mother was pleased with the gesture, but practicality took over and she told him he shouldn’t have spent that kind of money on her, which is never a good way to accept a gift. Did my mother appreciate her present? I’m sure she did, yet she couldn’t allow herself to enjoy it. Half the contents went to teachers’ gifts the following Christmas.
Just before my first Mother’s Day, my dad, who had been ill, went into the hospital for the very last time. I spent my first Mother’s Day sitting Shiva. As my husband wrote with the beautiful azalea plant he sent me, “I know this isn’t your best Mother’s Day, but things will get better. I love you.”
They did. Matthew was born four years after Brian, on May 12. My most cherished gifts became the cards my sons made for me as youngsters. Those were the ones covered with crayon decorations and saying, “To the Best Mommy in the whole world.” Of course, the cards immediately found a place of honor on the refrigerator.
I don’t know how it happened but for many years, Mother’s Day became Matthew’s birthday celebration. As Mother’s Day drew closer, Uncle Jake would say, “What are we doing for Matthew’s birthday?” That always translated into picking up my mother and uncle in Lynn, bringing them to Danvers, and enjoying a cookout. Unless it was raining, which meant a cook-in. A Mother’s Day cake was a birthday cake. Those were happy times.
Mother’s Day and grief
When Uncle Jake passed away, also in May and just before Mother’s Day, it was a tough year. No one wanted to celebrate. My husband and I just wanted to be together with Mom and the kids.
The following year, the effects of Brian’s illness worsened. He was only 19 and a sophomore at Boston University, and yet he lay dying at our local Hunt Hospital. When my husband and I went to visit him, though he could barely lift his head, Brian looked at me sadly and said, “I’m so sorry, Mom. It’s Mother’s Day and I don’t have a gift for you.”
“Just having you here is my best gift,” I replied. Would that I could have kept him for many more celebrations, but that was not to be.
After Brian’s death, Mother’s Day lost some of its tinsel. We still spent time with my mother until she passed away. When my husband died, Mother’s Day underwent several changes. But a few years ago came the best change of all.
Although Matt always has a gift for me he personally chooses, each Mother’s Day he also brings me the gift of his time and his toolbox. It doesn’t get any better than that!